You’re finally home after a long week, hurrying to the porch for the best part of the day. Swinging the front door open with a treat in your pocket, your furry friend promptly rushes to your side, smiling, wiggling and melting your heart for the millionth time.

You’re a pet owner, joining 57% of U.S. households who know the joy of a slobbery kisses and purr-fectly warm snuggles. Pets are not only great companions, they influence social, emotional and cognitive development, can promote an active lifestyle, and thanks to our pup family, have detected oncoming epileptic seizures or the presence of certain cancers. 

While research doesn’t have to tell you owning a pet can make your heart happy, it does suggest it could make your heart healthier. Dr. Glenn N. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine and author of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) scientific statement on pet ownership is on board with researchers’ findings.

“The American Heart Association reviewed available data and found that pet ownership may lead to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Though additional research is clearly needed on this important topic, pet owners may have another reason to brag … the possibility of our pets contributing to happy minds and healthy hearts.”

Increase fitness levels

With a majority of pet owners being dog lovers, it’s not surprising that fitness levels tend to increase for this pet segment. One study shows that dog owners are 57% more likely to get the AHA’s recommended amount of physical activity than nonowners. Other research found that dog walkers got an average of 30 minutes more exercise a day than nonwalkers. Long daily walks, park visits or swimming at the lake keep the heart pumping for both the owner and the pooch.

Relieve stress

It doesn’t take long to feel the calming effects when hanging out with your pet. Just petting or playing with your pup or feline can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin, while decreasing production of the stress hormone cortisol. Reducing stress is an important part of good cardiovascular health, helping to fight off heart attacks and stroke. 

Lower blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the biggest indicators for stroke and heart disease. Luckily, smart choices, medication and even pet ownership can help keep blood pressure in line. According to a Harvard Medical School publication, the act of petting a dog has the potential to lower a person’s blood pressure for key heart benefits. Another study performed by a dog-adoption group found that ambulatory blood pressure monitoring taken two and five months after the adoption of a pet showed significantly lower systolic blood pressure. 

Lower cholesterol and triglycerides

Backed by a Harvard Medical School publication, owning a dog has been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The discovery makes sense, as a pet often increases the demand for physical activity, while lowering stress for its owners, both of which have been noted to lower cholesterol and triglycerides for less risk of heart disease.

Decrease depression and improve socialization

Depression is reported in an estimated 1 in 10 of Americans ages 18 and older, and the figure can be as high as 33% for heart attack patients. Taking a walk with your pet, 30 minutes a day, even 10 minutes at a time, can lower depression and improve socialization to promote heart health and a greater sense of well-being. 

Help you stick to heart-healthy habits

When Rover’s got to go, so do you with routine walks throughout the day – every day. Some pets have been known to remind you it’s bedtime, keeping sleep in check. Others keep you socialized through pet groups, for more consistent, happier living. Even in the rehabilitation industry, therapy dogs help patients stick to therapy plans to make completing tasks more fun, while providing motivation and hope for the future.

Ready to adopt?

If you’re considering owning a pet and welcome the loving responsibilities that come with it, going for it can be a heart-healthy choice for the whole family. In return, keep your pet healthy by following these important guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

• Provide regular, life-long veterinary care

• Provide a good diet, fresh water, clean bedding and exercise space

• Keep up to date on vaccines, deworming and flea and tick control

• Teach your children how to interact with your pet

Sources:

American Veterinary Medical Association

heart.org/en/get-involved/best-friend-fridays-resources-and-info-kit/weve-sniffed-out-the-benefits-this-june-more-companies-are-going-pet-friendly

About Pets & People, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, accessed February 2018  www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html

heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing/can-your-pet-help-you-be-healthier

Walking your dog helps your heart, American Heart Association News, May 2013

heartinsight.heart.org/Fall-2017/Is-Owning-a-Pet-Good-for-You/

health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/having-a-dog-can-help-your-heart–literally

animalsmart.org/species/dogs/dogs-help-reduce-stress

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